The use of torture in the middle ages?

I’m trying to understand this issue, the catechism says torture is an intrinsic evil. and in the early middle ages, that was the view as well.

but during the time of the inquisition and other court proceedings, torture was resorted to for extracting confessions and other such things. I know, there is a lot of biased information on the subject, but even if it was used as often as most people think, it was still sanctioned at one point.

I’m trying to understand how this doesn’t constitue a change in moral teaching. ok, maybe it was meant for the whole church. but telling one group to do something that was onced deemed immoral seems like a change to me.

wouldn’t it be the same as if the pope told a specific group of women they could have abortions for a specific reason?

can someone please help me understand?

First of all, show me where torture is a discipline of the Church.
I think we all know that some people do evil things in the name of religion, but that evil is always wrong.
Why would you ever think the Pope would ever counsel someone to kill? :eek:

the inquisition, torture was a method used to extract conressions sometimes.

also, torture was frequently employed by state courts. but if church and state were so close, wouldn’t that also be wrong?

The fact that from time to time abuses occur doesn’t mean the moral teaching changed. It means people went astray.
The Church has erred/strayed from time to time in her history. Thankfully, we have councils to right the ship.

but the church claims to have never changed its teaching. if torture was allowed, doesn’t it mean the teaching changed? wasn’t it sanctioned in canon law at one point?

Church and state were very cosy in the middle ages, but sometimes the state (kings and counts) would go overboard and the Church authorities would try to rein them in. I was reading about the Cathar crusades. The king of France, after defeating the Cathars in some battle, wanted to execute them, but the papal legates wanted them to have imprisonment instead in order to spare their lives. I’m not aware of popes ever authorizing torture, but the middle ages was a brutal time, and sometimes lines were blurred between church and state.

Canon law is not Church teaching.

Canon laws can and do change. The doctrines of the Church are fixed.


These tracts from should help:

I don’t think so.
But the Church has made changes from time to time.
Mostly through councils.
And they are always done in order to more accurately align with the original teachings that may have become corrupt or misused or mistranslated over time.

EDit: I see that GEDDIE has provided a clearer answer above.

Actually, Pope Innocent IV did authorize the use of torture in limited circumstances with the 1252 papal bull Ad Extirpanda.

It was only to be used by the Inquisition for extracting confessions from heretics. The bull was issued after a papal inquisitor was murdered by a group of Cathar sympathizers.

The torture though could not endanger life or limb, it could only be done once, and it could only be carried out if the person was found to be guilty of heresy beyond doubt. Heretics were viewed as murderers of souls and robbers of the faith, so they felt these false teachers should be dealt with in a severe fashion. However, as boomerang noted, the punishments meted out by the secular authorities were far worse. The Inquisition was in no way the most merciless court in the Middle Ages.

I am not up on my canon law, but this papal bull no longer applies (it was not an infallible teaching). It was repealed centuries later…though I’m not sure on the date.

You have to consider that it was government officials that did torture in the middle ages. Likewise the vague “they used torture in the inquisition” is more based on rumors than facts. You also have to consider that freedom of religion was not a political reality and if the king or duke or whoever was … then the people that were subject to that ruler were expected to follow their ruler’s faith. That is why when there were dissident groups back in the middle ages, they were seen as a rebellion against the king more so than the Catholic Church. That doesn’t change the fact that torture is wrong. It is even used by today’s govenments around the world. Again, you are going to have to consider that these types of claims that either the Catholic Church used torture or was behind it are usually promoted by anti-Catholic historians and people.

I do not know the history of the Inquisition, may have occurred cerca 1500 Renaissance actually but I was amazed to see some paintings of the Inquisition actually in Mexico. I don’t vouch for the wikipedia article’s contents but the Spanish Inquisition and it’s extension, Mexican Inquisition did occur in the Americas.

it’s not?

what’s the difference?

if the pope sanctioned torture, even in limited circumstances, doen’st it give off the impression that it’s ok?

Thank you Robwar. obviously angel misunderstood my post.

I didn’t misunderstand your post

even thos links that someone posted with the catholic tracts acknowledge that torture was sometimes used during the inquisitions.

and there were papal bulls which sanctioned its use, in certain circumstances. as well as canon law.

I’m trying to understand things when the church says it doen’st change its teaching or doen’s err in faith or morals

weren’t the government officials also mostly Christians? so why were using torture? did the church ever say anything about it. often , they turned the heretics over to the state, knowing what would happen to them

The people of the Church (including Popes) have erred many times in history.
All human.
We believe the Church does not err (ie is infalible) on matters of faith and morals that are handed down “ex cathedra” only…that is when a council is called, the Pope consults with Bishops, and they make a formal decree.

Last things first, if the Holy Father told a group of women they could have abortions, he would be acting immorally and not teaching. The Church’s teaching is the Church’s teaching, not every opinion, action, or word of the Holy Father.

When you refer to “the inquisition”, you seem to believe that there was a single institution called the Inquisition. In fact there were many courts over hundreds of years, some of which (Spanish and Portuguese for example) were civil, not church, processes. The civil courts routinely used torture, inquisition or not.

The only papal “approval” of torture of which I am aware was the bull “Ad extirpanda” promulgated May 15, 1252 by Pope Innocent IV which authorized in limited and defined circumstances the use of torture by the Inquisition for eliciting confessions from heretics.

The murder of the papal inquisitor of Lombardy, St. Peter of Verona, by a conspiracy of Cathar sympathizers April 6, 1252, was the incident that prompted the bull.

The bull authorized the civil authorities, not the church officers, to use means which did not cause loss of life or limb, only once, and only when the Inquisitor deemed the evidence against the accused to be virtually certain.

This may be unseemly in our 21st century hindsight, but it is not a teaching.


Nice post.
I would think this would put angel’s concerns to rest.

During the dark age of the Papacy, several Popes slept with married women. Does this constitute a change in the Church’s teachings re: the evils of adultery, or maybe a change in its disciplines re: clerical continence?

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